Asteroid 2023 BU zipped past Earth on Thursday night (January 26) to the delight of amateur astronomers around the world. For skywatchers without access to a telescope or those whose views were hampered by bad weather, luckily the Italy-based Virtual Telescope Project was there to observe the event and live stream it all for free.
The Virtual Telescope is a robotic telescope operated by Italian amateur astronomer Gianluca Masi near Rome, Italy. Like 2023 BU lashed out against Earththe telescope was able to track the rock through a gap in the clouds when it was about 13,670 miles (22,000 kilometers) from its closest point on Earth’s surface (about the height of GPS navigation satellite constellation) and 22,990 miles (37,000 km) from the Virtual Telescope.
However, Masi, who shared an hour-long webcast of the observations on the Virtual Telescope website, was unable to capture the closest approach as the clouds rolled in. Nevertheless, the Virtual Telescope Project was able to get a good look at the car-sized rock, seen in the time-lapse above.
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The rock, discovered less than a week ago on Saturday (January 21), passed over the southern tip of South America at 7:27 p.m. EST on Thursday, January 26 (0027 GMT on January 27), at a distance of just 2,240 miles (3,600 km) at its closest point to Earth’s surface.
This close approach makes 2023 BU the fourth closest asteroid ever observed from Earth, with the exception of five space rocks that were discovered before diving in Earth’s atmosphere.
Only 11.5 to 28 feet wide (3.5 to 8.5 meters), 2023 BU posed no danger to the planet. If the trajectories of the two bodies had crossed, the asteroid would have largely burned up in the atmosphere with only small fragments possibly falling to the ground as meteorites.
In the videos and photos shared by Masi, the asteroid is seen as a small bright dot in the center of the image, while the longer, brighter lines are the surrounding stars. In reality, of course, it was the asteroid that was moving relative to Earth, traveling at a speed of 21,000 mph (33,800 km/h) relative to Earth. As Masi’s computerized telescope tracked its position, the rock appeared stationary in the images while rendering the stars as these moving streaks.
The gravitational kick that 2023 BU received during its encounter with Earth will change the shape of its orbit around the Sun. In the past, the space rock followed a fairly circular path, completing one round around the Sun in 359 days. From now on, BU 2023 will travel through the inner Solar System on a more elliptical orbit, venturing halfway towards Mars at the farthest point of its orbit. This change will add 66 days to BU 2023’s turnaround period.
The asteroid was discovered by the famous Crimea-based astronomer and astrophotographer Gennadiy Borisov, the same man who in 2018 found the first interstellar comet, which now bears his name, Borisov.
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